by Sheila Gardner

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February 20, 2013
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Getting the safety message out to young drivers

In less than three years, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Dan Gordon and his team of instructors believe they have delivered a message to 1,000 young drivers through a free safe driving course.

That message is that driving is a responsibility - not a right or privilege - that carries very grown-up consequences.

The program - Driving Responsibly Includes Vehicle Education - is designed for drivers age 15 to their early 20s. Parents are also invited.

The next class is 2:30-5:30 p.m. Monday at the Douglas County Sheriff's Office training room in Minden.

Gordon, who re-introduced the class following a fatal head-on collision the day after Douglas High School graduation in 2010, said the program is about to go statewide.

In addition to Carson City and Douglas County, course instructors are trained in Incline Village, Elko, Yerington, Fallon, Fernley, and Smith Valley. He's working with NHP and school officials in Clark and Washoe counties.

Gordon hopes to make the free program part of the school curriculum. He teaches the course in a three-hour block several times a year.

Many of his students have been referred after contact with juvenile probation or for traffic violations.

A recent student was directed to class after Gordon pulled him over for traveling 86 mph in a 25-mph zone.

"I told him the way he was driving, he was going to kill someone. He told me he was late for a job interview," Gordon said.

He cited the young driver, and delivered him to juvenile probation.

Gordon does not let first-time offenders off with a warning.

"The premise of DRIVE is really geared toward decision-making," Gordon said. "Everything they do is decision-making - speeding up to make the light, texting, using their cell phones. We talk about making the right decision vs. the consequences of making a bad decision."

Gordon is working on a grant for more instructors, many of whom volunteer their time.

"There's genuine interest among law enforcement in getting these kids to really understand what's going on when they get behind the wheel," Gordon said.

Despite the gravity of the content, instructors try to make the class casual, interactive and fun.

"We pack a lot of information into the class," he said. "It's a reality-based program with real stories and photos of incidents that have occurred in our community. We want to bring it close to home."

Each class begins with a pre-test to determine young drivers' level of awareness.

"Most of what they know, they've learned from their parents," Gordon said. "Some of these kids come in with a video game mentality. If you die in a video game, you just hit reset, and you get five more lives."

The class focuses on several elements including Nevada traffic laws, speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence.

At the conclusion, students are tested again; Gordon is compiling statistics he hopes to use to measure the success of DRIVE.

"Obviously, the reduction of accidents would be the ultimate goal," Gordon said. "The greatest feeling is when a kid comes up, or a parent, and thanks me for teaching the class."

Gordon is the father of a 16-year-old driver, and has seen multiple accidents involving people he knows.

"When something happens, we live in a very, very small tight-knit community," he said. "If we can prevent an accident through education, that's the best thing."

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The Record Courier Updated Feb 20, 2013 11:11AM Published Feb 20, 2013 11:10AM Copyright 2013 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.